The day after Presidential candidate Joe Biden announced Senator Kamala Harris as his choice for Vice President, we recorded a podcast. These are my comments on that show. I've slightly edited my raw, emotional response.
There is no excuse anymore for not pronouncing people’s names right anymore. It is 2020.
People who listen to the podcast and who know me know that I was elated about the selection of Senator Kamala Harris as the presumptive nominee for VP. I felt like it would be Senator Harris but crazier things have happened and it’s 2020.
I thought it was going to be Senator Harris but I had nervous energy because I am such a fan. And when it was announced, I was actually on a phone call and was receiving so many text messages that I knew something was going on.
And when I saw that Harris was the nominee, I cried. And the reason I cried was related to something I was thinking about from my childhood. My parents, as many Black parents do, tell their kids to work hard and recognize that you may have to work harder than others. You may have to show up in a different way. You know, there are these unofficial rules that you get from Black parents. And you hope you do everything “right”…whatever right means to honor your family and to make sure that folks know that you’re smart and intelligent and worthy and that you belong. And then as it relates to Senator Kamala Harris, we started to see these hits coming out that she's too ambitious and too strong and she has faults, etc. We all have faults. And I think I cried because it was a moment when I felt like she’s being herself, her excellent self, and finally there was some recognition for a Black woman at almost the highest level (I still think she would have been a great President and maybe she will be.) and it felt like a moment where I was so proud to be a Black woman. And that’s why the tears were flowing.
She could have been discouraged. The attacks on her when she was running for President and the comparisons and the lack of support for her from a financial standpoint could have meant that she could have easily been discouraged and said, “Screw this country. There's no place for me as a Black woman at the highest level of leadership in our country.” But she didn’t. And the way that she showed up was strong. It shows young women. All young women...what you can do and be when you overcome such hate and extreme obstacles at the very highest level and how you persevere and still show up in the way she is doing as our VP candidate. Now, to be clear, it should not be her burden to deal with such things. We should be better as a country and better as people and at the same time the way in which she has shown up after such horrible treatment (and it’s going to get worse) is just remarkable. I admire her for what she’s showing me and what she is showing my daughter and what she is showing young women in our country. It is something to be seen. This is history and we get to witness it and I feel very blessed.
By Candace Dodson-Reed, Chief of Staff and Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, UMBC
As Chief of Staff at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), it is a privilege to work with one of the most prolific, respected leaders and thoughtful minds in higher education, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski. It is an honor made even more special because “Doc” was my president when I was an undergraduate student at UMBC. In his 28 years as UMBC’s president, Dr. Hrabowski has transformed UMBC from a young institution, founded on a farm with a reputation for being a “commuter school,” to a nationally recognized, research powerhouse with a long list of accolades and praise.
UMBC’s unexpected “shining moment”, however, came when our men’s basketball team made history by upsetting the University of Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2018, even as NY Times journalist Erica L. Green famously noted, "the U.M.B.C. Cinderella story transcends athletics, and has been decades in the making". That moment was a result of teamwork and grit, characteristics that have defined UMBC during the tenure of Dr. Hrabowski, who notes on the first page of his new book, The Empowered University, “It's not about me. It’s about us.”
Dr. Hrabowski’s leadership style and self-awareness give those around him, like me, the opportunity to grow and lead through crisis.
After a lawsuit alleging the mishandling of sexual assault involving students named UMBC, the UMBC community has engaged in important discussions over the last 20 months. Through a collaborative, thoughtful process, convened by Dr. Hrabowski, me, and a few other senior leaders that included creating a structure to ensure input from students, faculty, and staff, as well as external constituencies, the university community and consultants delivered us a set of recommendations. The consensus was that while we were compliant in the work of both our Title IX and human relations offices, we should seek a more holistic approach in addressing challenges related to sexual misconduct.
As part of this process and in response to one of the most significant recommendations--to move the Title IX/human relations offices--with insistence from Dr. Hrabowski, my responsibilities expanded to include both Title IX and human relations functions at the university. I am currently leading this effort, as well as working with our expanding team to create the new office of equity and inclusion, with a mandate to promote the university’s core values of inclusive excellence and equity. The office’s mission is “to ensure compliance with sexual misconduct and non-discrimination laws, regulations, and policies through prompt, fair investigations, education and training, and outreach and engagement”. Given what’s happening across our country, it proved to be timely to recommend a name change and enhanced mission last summer.
The chief of staff role in university settings is evolving. In the May-June issue of Harvard Business Review, in an article called The Case for a Chief of Staff, Patrick Aylward, a vice president and chief of staff at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, describes the CoS position as “...serving as an air traffic controller for the leader and the senior team; as an integrator connecting work streams that would otherwise remain siloed; as a communicator linking the leadership team and the broader organization; as an honest broker and truth teller when the leader needs a wide-ranging view without turf considerations; and as a confidant without an organizational agenda”. He described the role in a corporate setting but I believe the position often operates similarly in the university setting. But depending on the president, the role of chief of staff is much more than that. An innovative and creative university leader views their chief of staff as a thought partner, encouraging them to take the lead on major special projects and crisis responses.
When I spoke with Freeman (he really prefers that people use his first name) about this article, I asked him why he chose me as Chief of Staff. He talked about my experience in both politics and the private sector, my ability to work with all kinds of people, and my natural ability to be able to pivot to address big and small challenges with a calm demeanor--the qualities mentioned in the article. But he reiterated the importance of having a Chief of Staff who you can trust and who you can empower to work broadly with the campus community at all times but especially during times of crisis.
As the coronavirus sweeps through our country and forces higher education institutions to adjust their operational model, education leaders rely on their chiefs of staff and executive teams to help coordinate response and support efforts. Freeman trusts and encourages me to lead our operations team as part of the overall UMBC Incident Command System.
At the same time, as our country mourns the murders of Black people due to senseless police brutality, and reacts to the continuous mistreatment of people of color from systemic racism, Freeman has empowered me to lead our response and action efforts with our office of equity and inclusion and newly appointed Inclusion Council.
In addition to having a supportive President, it is crucial to work with colleagues across the university to be effective. Leading through crisis is a tremendous challenge and cannot be done alone, nor can it be done in silos. I am thankful for our UMBC colleagues and our commitment to shared governance.
I say all of this not in an effort to boast about my leadership at the university, but to highlight the evolution of the chief of staff position in higher education, and the value of a university president who empowers that position.
Cecilia Munoz, the first Latinx person to lead the White House domestic policy council during President Obama’s administration, wrote about the importance of leaders who instill a sense of confidence in their colleagues, particularly women, in her book, "More than Ready: Be Strong and Be You and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise”.
In times of upheaval --from a global pandemic to national issues regarding race and ethnicity, to student protests--university leaders must be able to take action to support the campus community and beyond. Chiefs of staff are ready to address these issues. With a supportive president, who boosts confidence and empowers the individual, they can rise to the leadership the position demands.
While my tenure as Freeman’s chief of staff has been for just two years, in that time we have worked through multiple crisis situations and I have come to learn many valuable lessons about leadership and empowerment. And “Doc” has reminded me of the most important lesson for those in a role like mine: “success is never final.”
What People Are Saying
“Candace is the woman who gets picked first for the team - with good reason. In addition to being incredibly smart and dedicated, she also brings a keen and compassionate understanding to the work she does each and every day. I have seen her now in several different aspects of life - personal, professional, political -and in every aspect she is a leader and a doer. We need more like her.” - Delegate Brooke Lierman